We may take it for granted, being able to see. But just as having white and straight teeth doesn't preclude you from going to the dentist regularly, having clear eyesight shouldn't stop you from getting an annual eye check. See, the majority of sight-robbing eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, start slow. These diseases typically begin with small physiological changes to the inside of the eye that fester and multiply over years before vision loss is even noted. If these diseases are caught early, steps can be taken with eye drops, medications, and/or surgery to slow or even halt vision loss. However, with all of the advancements in treatment and detection of eye diseases, we still are unable to bring back eyesight once vision loss has occurred. Hence the importance of being proactive.
Patients ask me daily, "how often should I get my eyes checked?", and the response is always the same "every year". Is this overkill for the majority of patients? Sure, but until we develop a fool-proof way to predict which patients will get a sight-robbing disease and which ones won't with 100% accuracy, the only defense we have is to continually monitor. Gather data points, analyze trends.
I once had a patient who was very diligent in coming in for annual eye exams, and all the data was suggestive of very healthy eyes. For one reason or another, her life circumstances changed and she waited over 6 years before returning to see me. No vision complaints or issues just wanted to get new contacts. It didn't take long for all of our imaging and advanced testing equipment to start painting a frightening scene: this patient had developed glaucoma sometime in the last 6 years, and had begun to lose a significant amount of peripheral vision in one eye. Because the other eye was unaffected, the patient didn't even notice this vision loss until it was pointed out to her. So now we treat and control, and try to slow further vision loss.
Moral of the story: our perception of how good our vision is can be a poor indicator in regards to the health of the eye.
How can we get this message to hit home? An organization named SEE NOW is trying, and has created a very unique blindness simulator that takes things beyond the unrelatable pictures of eye disease you see in the doctor's office, and instead, shows you how your day-to-day physical world would look like if you were one of the 223 million people who suffered from vision loss. They achieve this by overlaying the expected vision loss of major eye disease over a Google Streetview representation of your street, or work, or anywhere else you may visit. Try it below, enter your street address, and see how different the world would be with vision loss.
Dr. Burke is an optometrist practicing at Calgary Vision Centre. Opinions above do not constitute medical advice, and readers should consult with their optometrist if they have questions or concerns about their eye health